Justin Jones is Navy Fellow at the Lowy Institute and maritime adviser to the MacArthur Foundation Lowy Institute Asia Security Project.
Sam posted earlier regarding the results of the UK defence review. Here are some additional thoughts and potential implications for Australia and the region.
The previous UK Government essentially robbed Peter to pay Paul following the commitment to build two large aircraft carriers. A significant reduction in ship numbers to offset the cost of buying and operating these larger carriers was foreshadowed eight years ago, while I was serving on exchange with the Royal Navy (RN). It was prescient analysis.
The latest reporting indicates that the RN's last remaining strike carrier, HMS Ark Royal, will be retired immediately and that destroyer and frigate levels will be reduced to 19 vessels. To put this in context, this means the navy with perhaps the greatest legacy of global sea power is on a fast track to having a mere seven more destroyers/frigates than the Royal Australian Navy. Seven.
Operationally, the RN has a wide footprint, with ships deployed to NATO naval forces in the Atlantic and Mediterranean, the South Atlantic guardship (Falkland Islands), and the Armilla patrol (Arabian Gulf) among others. Another such commitment is to the Five Power Defence Arrangement (FPDA), originally conceived in the Cold War to deter aggression against the Malaysian Peninsula. FPDA members (Malaysia, Singapore, UK, Australia, New Zealand) have ensured that the Arrangement has evolved with the times to focus on non-traditional threats.
How will reductions in ship, aircraft and troop numbers affect the UK's commitment to FPDA? It's an issue that Malaysia and Singapore must now be contemplating. Moreover, having made the decision to make significant cuts to the defence budget, the UK Government must now review, risk-assess and prioritise its global commitments.
Photo by Flickr user night86mare, used under a Creative Commons license.